From 21 November 2020
Ajao Adelowokan, The Unsung Heroines, 2019, oil on MDF wood panel, 244 x 122cm | SURVEYOR 2020 | From 21 November 2020 | Solstice Arts Centre
――― Online only ―――

Viewable online here. This is an online-only exhibition this year.

SURVEYOR serves to support, value, and encourage Meath artists in the development of their practices and creative careers. The exhibition presents an overview of contemporary visual arts practice throughout the county.

  • CATHERINE MARSHALL2020 GUEST CURATORCatherine Marshall is an art historian and Joint-editor of Twentieth Century, Vol V. of the Royal Irish Academy’s five-volume, Art and Architecture of Ireland.  She lectured in the History of Art department of Trinity College Dublin, National College of Art and Design and was founding Head of Collections at IMMA from 1995 to 2007.Marshall has curated exhibitions of contemporary Irish art and Outsider Art in Ireland, China, USA and Canada. She is currently Head of the Visual Arts Steering Committee for Bealtaine, and is a board member of the Butler Gallery, Kilkenny and KCAT. She is one of the founding editors of Comcol, the online journal of the Collections section of ICOM.
  • SURVEYOR 2020BY CATHERINE MARSHALLSelecting and curating an exhibition drawn from an open submission of artworks is both challenging  and exciting – challenging because if you are a complete outsider to the community that is invited to participate you have no idea what delicate balances and existing relationships might be inadvertently disrupted during the process, but it is also exciting because of the potential for new discoveries it brings with it. Presenting the resulting exhibition during a pandemic is challenging too for everyone involved. Curating an exhibition online solves the problem of gallery lockdowns to some extent but it limits those opportunities beloved of curators where you can position the artworks to allow for a nuanced reading of the selector’s choices. You can’t do as the great French painter, Jean Simeon Chardin did in the Paris Salon in the eighteenth century when he hung certain paintings in shady corners or behind doors, while giving prominence to those works he felt were truly significant or placed some alongside each other to draw out key aspects of the work. The online facility promotes equality while denying nuance.Solstice’s SURVEYOR 2020  brings all of these issues together. As one might expect there were a great many paintings, especially landscapes, that highlighted the beauty of the local or sometimes more exotic countryside; many of these were painted and presented with love and skill. And there were incredibly crafted landscapes made from textile collages, photographs  and sleek graphic designs that could happily travel anywhere.There was a smaller number of more experimental works in which the artist took a bold leap into the unknown with work that is not always so technically proficient but which sets out to make visible that which is not so obvious. They do what Paul Klee famously said is the role of art, not to mimic the visible but to reveal the invisible.For that reason, it was a thrill to discover the video works of Sinead Keogh, this year’s winner of the overall prize for outstanding artwork. Sinead Keogh’s work delves deep beneath the familiar surfaces of our lives, making us re-connect with subliminal fears and darker forces, the very things that modern science and technology should have removed from our collective psyche but have never quite managed to do. In Dracula, Keogh reminds us of things beyond our control as the Covid 19 virus spreads invisibly around us, just like the cholera epidemic that was one of the sources for Bram Stoker’s Dracula over a century ago. And Keogh does this with a maturity and attention to detail that makes their work utterly convincing, even as our rational minds question it. Add to that a wickedly clever sense of humour and a thorough knowledge of gothic cinema and art, and the cocktail is formidable.Keogh was closely challenged however, by another young video artist, this time a recent graduate from art college, Chloe McKeown. McKeown’s work centres on agricultural practices, an extraordinarily courageous thing to do in an area of strong farmers and a burgeoning dairy industry. Her performative video piece, Calf-feeder, and Daisy, an elegiac database of statistics about how human animals treat their bovine cousins makes compelling and unforgettable viewing.Other artists chose more traditional disciplines but painting in the work of Lesley Ann O’Connell, offering a light touch, and a deep understanding of colour harmonies within an abstract language, proves that it will always have something new to say. Sean Cotter  showed a more sombre side, using pen and ink as well as paint to conjure up the contrastingly bleached landscapes of Iceland where daylight lasts for half of the year and the dark, brooding depths of winter night, reminding us of how uncertain both are in a period of climate change. Marianne Slevin has invented a personal language of marks used repetitively to evoke the inner strengths needed to deal with dust and heat on the pilgrim’s route to Compostella. The cumulative impact of those repeated motifs give an impression of scale that expands far beyond her modest canvases. If Cotter and Slevin bring us through extreme environmental conditions and their impact on those who traverse them, Ajo Adelowokan. opens up the social life, colourful costumes and ritual practices of his native Nigeria with large scale work, brimming with the vitality of folk ritual and remembered hustle and bustle. His work is imbued with a real sense of loss of homeland, something generations of the Irish too, knew only too well, and in Adelowokan’s case, it is fed through a thoughtful homage to the women in his heritage. At the other end of the global spectrum, Aidan Flanagan’s prints effortlessly but modestly  bring out the effect of changing light patterns on the Irish countryside.Not many artists chose to send in photographic work. That made Suella Holland’s disturbing mix of nostalgia and threat, all the more welcome, especially as they are delivered with such clarity and punch. In a world of lockdowns her images of a decaying hallway, a massive lock and a pair of hands juxtaposed with a closed door are searing.  Despite the year we have all lived through, the Covid pandemic was rarely dealt with directly, but three substantial grids of polaroid photographs by Simon McDermott attempted to map it in a kind of personal journal. The immediacy of the polaroid created a poignant parallel to the virus-led need to live in the moment and to savour it because nothing else was, or is, certain. We are returned to claustrophobic space by William O’Neill’s clinical Two Lunch Boxes and Two Ice Packs and that is re-enforced rather than relieved, in a very different way by  the controlled desperation of Mary Clarke’s Looking Down.Sculpture too, was less visible but quantity was made up for in quality work by Sharon Ramsey, Bernadette Tuite. Siobhan Ni Cheallaigh, and Penelope Lacey. Ramsey, another recent graduate did that magic thing we love artists’ for, she magicked something wonderful from the most unlikely of materials, while Bernadette Tuite used her knowledge of ceramics and glass to express her concerns about the impact of time and coastal traumas.  Siobhan Ni Cheallaigh is interested in heritage which is revealed through her combination of fragments of ordinary life, but Penelope Lacey seeks, if the virus allows, to engage her living audiences in direct participation.Some artists reference traditional disciplines while actually presenting something else. Paula Piotrowoska’s Modern Moons are not merely paint, but mixed media presented in such a way that they take on sculptural dimensions as does Brian Synott’s Natural History, using mirrors and steel to play with ideas of space, and Yvonne Corrigan’s whimsical recycling of a bit of plastic wrapping. Not all artists choose to be as  iconoclastic or as experimental as them but their work is memorable in other ways. Laura Mahony, Eileen O’Sullivan, Clare O’Connor, Carol O’Connor, Shane Hoey, Patrick Beatty, Derrick Smyth, and David Newton showed strong independent voices, but more traditional approaches by artists like Kieran McNulty, Anne Marie Hayes and Fiona Nestor spell out the strength of our connections to the natural world.It was good to see self-taught artists like Paddy Price, James Kelliher and Angela Kelliher whose spontaneous little record of the last family meeting before a local lockdown was the only other direct reference to the pandemic. Her work reminds us that these are difficult times for everyone, but artists never fail to tackle those challenges and fight to restore our sense of balance in the world.Congratulations to Solstice on another inclusive exhibition in its surveyor series and on its determination to keep normality afloat through the arts despite the lurking threats. It was a pleasure to have been part of it.
Image: Ajao Adelowokan, The Unsung Heroines, 2019, oil on MDF wood panel, 244 x 122cm
From 21 November 2020
Solstice Arts Centre
Navan, County Meath
Telephone: +353 46 9092300
Admission / price: Free

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